A little good news on the budget — and 6 more things to know about LAUSD’s school board meeting
Mike Szymanski | December 13, 2017
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At their last meeting of 2017, the LA Unified school board beefed up sexual harassment policies, reversed support for a state bill that charter schools considered a threat, discussed how to handle upcoming retiree costs of nearly $14 billion, and got a little good news on the budget.
More cash is coming from the state through LCFF funding, so the district’s chief financial officer is no longer calling for class size increases, as he did just four months ago. In his presentation to the board on Tuesday, Scott Price said the district will have an ending balance of $685 million this year, which is nearly $95 million higher than expected. The ending balance for 2018-19 is projected at $373.2 million. But by 2020-21, the district’s reserve money will be used up.
For 2017-18, the budget shows $125.5 million less in federal money because of lower Title I grants. The district did see an increase of $2.6 million for higher interest earnings.
Declining enrollment is hurting the district the most, and Price said, “Overall, we’re spending more than what we’re bringing in.”
“We can’t let short-term good news distract us” from declining enrollment, said board member Kelly Gonez. “We need to plan and take serious steps now.”
UNFUNDED $13.6 BILLION LIABILITY
A report from Glenn Daley of the Independent Analysis Unit detailed how the district must begin paying down the $13.6 billion in Other Post Employment Benefits, which is in addition to the retirement pensions. He suggested that if the district pays $100 million a year toward the debt, it could reduce that liability by $1.6 billion.
“But $100 million is not sufficient,” said board vice president Nick Melvoin, who noted that the pension debt is also growing.
Board member Richard Vladovic brought up changing some health benefits to offset the future liability, but no decisions were made.
SEXUAL HARASSMENT POLICIES
The board approved Melvoin’s resolution to incorporate best practices in the district’s sexual harassment policies. Melvoin noted that employees should know every claim will be “thoroughly investigated and addressed so that our schools are safe spaces — not only for kids, but for our teachers and employees as well.”
Within 120 days the district will provide updates, and by the first of the year, there will be a sexual harassment hotline available.
The board agreed to increase lobbying efforts for more state and federal money. Melvoin said he thought the district’s voice should be more coordinated.
The board also voted to withdraw support for a state bill that calls for eliminating counties and the state as charter school authorizers, leaving only local school districts with that authority. The 4-3 vote fell along familiar lines, with the four board members elected with charter school support voting for it, and George McKenna, Richard Vladovic, and Scott Schmerelson voting against the resolution, because they previously voted to direct the district’s lobbyists to support the bill.
Now parents can plan vacations because the school schedule is set for the next three years at district schools. (Independent charter schools can set their own schedules). After surveying nearly 170,000 families and nearly 21,000 employees, the district decided on a schedule very similar to the current one.
A few board members wanted schools to start after Labor Day, but that would push first semester finals until after winter break, and the school year wouldn’t end until late June.
For the next three years, school will start in mid-August and end the first week of June, with the first semester ending before winter break. Thanksgiving remains a weeklong holiday, and winter break remains three weeks.
Board members Gonez, Melvoin, Schmerelson, and Monica Garcia voted for the schedule, along with the student board member Benjamin Holtzman. McKenna and Vladovic voted no because they wanted a post-Labor Day start, and Ref Rodriguez voted no because he only thought one year’s schedule should be approved.
MARTIN LUTHER KING JR. DAY
McKenna and Melvoin proposed a day of services on Jan. 15, the birthday of the civil rights leader. The resolution was unanimously approved. Acting Superintendent Vivian Ekchian said, “I am encouraging our students, employees and families to volunteer and help others” on that day.
Without debate, the board unanimously approved $1.4 billion for construction for schools that will come from funds already approved by voters. However, the board is already talking about asking for more money from voters through bonds.
Put off until next month:
NEW RULES. The board postponed until January a proposal for new rules for the board meetings that give the president more authority.
TRANSPARENCY. The board also plans to discuss in January a resolution by Melvoin that would revamp the district’s website and make it easier to find information and offer more data to the public.